Chapter 2: Coming of age, a ceremony needed for emancipation.

Part 1

I was running away as I incessantly swung my whip at the horses pulling my chariot through the sea of stars. The earth’s surface turned round and round below me as I was chased in a circular orbit.

Coming after me was White Hatred, a monster that was nothing but an enormous jaw that could swallow stars whole.

Even for me, a minor god, fighting back directly could be quite dangerous.

I quickly stole a glance behind me to confirm its location.

Just like it had been since the beginning of my memory, it was still hard at my heels.

I blanched instinctively.

“No matter how you look at this, the outcome will rely purely on luck. So hey, don’t you think that just going round and round in circles like idiots is too tiring? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just take a rest?” I shouted over my shoulder. But I wasn’t really expecting any answer.

“Fool,” came the unexpected answer from the depths of the jaws.

“The sole reason I was born is to chase thee.”

“But hey, do you actually enjoy it? I’m getting really tired of it by now.”

I ruffled my brown hair as I spoke.

“If thou art tired of living then chooseth death. Moon’s Postilion, I assure thee that I’ll thoroughly savour thee.”

“Uwah, the conversation is flowing a lot weirder than it should be. I honestly think that there are plenty of other fun stuff to do, more fun than just chasing after me like this.”

There was no vocal answer, it only sped up a bit.

I cowered again, hunching forward, and swung my whip once.

However, I didn’t move forward.

I felt all the blood drain from my face. I’d be killed if this happened.

I swung my whip again and again, but the horses wouldn’t budge.

Just what is happening? I turned to look around, but apart from me, nothing else made any  movement.

Not even White Hatred behind me was moving.

Once I realized that, I let out a sigh of relief.

“Time came to a halt huh…then that can only mean it’s her.”

“That is correct, Moon’s Postilion.”

I heard a voice from just beside me.

In the short time I had taken to turn around, she had sat in my lap. Her soft, blond hair swayed as her blue eyes peeked at me, a gentle smile on her face as usual.

The touch of skin through thin silk material was soft and warm, causing me to be flustered all of a sudden.

My own clothing was the kind of rough wear suitable for a postilion–––short pants and a coarse shirt––– so her touch and warmth was passed on to me without obstruction.

“Good day, Moon’s Postilion. Good day, Moon’s Postilion. Good day, Moon’s Postilion.”

As always, she repeated her greeting three times.

Trying to suppress an awkward smile, I waved back at her.

I also stopped myself from thinking and telling her not to sit on top of me even though the postilion’s seat was narrow. If I told her that, I knew that she would never come to sit with me again.

And plainly put, I was quite glad every time she came to visit me.

“So…today I came for…”

When she started speaking, an uncanny glint appeared in her indigo tinted eyes.

A grim premonition started welling up inside me.

“What do you need from me, goddess of fate?”

Her well-shaped index finger muted my lips.

“Call me Ver. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“Got it, Ver.” I slightly hunched my back again.

She nodded, seemingly satisfied, and continued talking.

“Could you…risk your life to fight for a certain girl that lives in the future?”

“Please go back,” I answered immediately, but still with a smile, she quickly wrapped her arms around me and hugged me, and I couldn’t say anything more.

I could feel her soft chest pressing onto mine, and my cheeks were getting slightly flushed.

“I’m sorry.” Her eyes shifted downwards in apology, her long eyelashes casting a stronger shadow. “But after considering the circumstances, I can’t think of any other suitable person besides you.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” After all, I could only understand the past and present, and even that only to a quite limited extent.

“But in reality, do I even have the option to refuse?”

“You do, but I don’t plan on letting you do that.”

Her smile grew bigger as a devilish glint appeared in her narrowing eyes.

I sighed once. Really, I had no chance of winning over her.

Part 2

“Do whatever you want. In the end, I wouldn’t be able to change anything anyway if you decide to go all out against me.”

Then she giggled and clapped once with joy.

“Thank you, for always listening to my selfish requests.” I felt as though I might fall in love with her current smile. “That’s why I like you, Moon’s Postilion.”

At the same time as she spoke those words, the whip in my hand shone brightly, and then it  started transforming into a black one right before my eyes. It acquired a glossy finish that reminded me of iron, but its texture was different.

After swinging it lightly, it danced magnificently with unimaginable speed, literally leaving trails behind it before returning back to my hand.

“That’s for you, I asked the dwarves to make it. It’s called the Crescent Moon’s Shadow, made by interlacing strips of a monster’s leather dissolved in silver water under the shadow of the moon.”

Tools made by dwarves were almost always superior to regular ones, but convincing the hardheaded dwarves to make something was probably quite the hassle, so I gave her my thanks.

“I’m glad you like it.”

She stood up from my lap. The soft feeling disappeared and only her sweet scent lingered for a while, tingling my nose.

“By the way.”

As if dancing through an ocean of stars, she walked away. My gaze instinctively followed her golden hair that swayed in an inviting manner.

“Do you know what is happening down there?”

There was no way for me to know that. All I did was circle through the sky, pulling the moon behind me.

I shook my head, and she turned around, her hair waving behind her.

“You see, down there, a world is coming to its end. A big world at that.”

I knitted my brows, hearing her bring up something so trivial, but just at that moment–––

Time started flowing again.

In the instant that followed, White Hatred closed in on me and opened its huge jaws, shortening the distance between us considerably, close enough that it felt like I could touch it with my hand.

“Oh come on now, I can’t even enjoy the aftertaste?”

Grumbling, I tightened my grip on the newly acquired Crescent Moon’s Shadow.

White Hatred raised its voice.

“Is that thy weapon I see? Art thee finally in the mood to finish this, Moon’s Postilion?!”

“Well, I’m just going with the flow here.”

As I spoke this, I swung the whip.

It sliced through space, hitting the jaws that were closing in on me and tearing them apart.

Without stopping for even a moment after my opening attack, I twisted my wrist and continued striking, smashing and ripping through it countless times.

Still, as soon as a wound was made, it would start to heal itself immediately.

“Ahhh, there’s no end to this.” I ruffled my brown hair forcibly with my free hand.

“If thou art giving up, I shall gladly end thy suffering.”

No matter how many times I hit him, White Hatred wouldn’t even flinch. He just kept on chasing insistently after me, determined to end my life.

The situation just kept worsening with every passing moment.

If there was a word that could describe him perfectly, it would be ‘persistence’.

Maybe he would even chase me all the way down to hell if I were to die.

And I didn’t mean that lightly.

Then I heard a beautiful voice that sounded completely incongruous with this situation:

“I realize that you are going to die here, but just in case, I’ll tell you this: take care of yourself, and may we meet again.”

That sentence seemed to have been said simply for the sole purpose of irritating me further, but she definitely didn’t mean any harm…or did she?

But then again, no matter what it meant, that was just the kind of thing that she’d say, something that I found cute about her.

“Good day, Moon’s Postilion. Good day, Moon’s Postilion. Good day, Moon’s Postilion.”

That was the last time I heard her voice, and it wouldn’t be until much, much later that I would be able to meet with her again.

~~~

I woke up wondering if I had dreamt a really weird dream, only to find that I had woken up into another dream.

There was nothing but pure white stretching out for as far as I could see. Not even the horizon  where the ground met the sky was visible.

Only I was there, wearing my black sailor uniform, accompanied by the blonde girl whom I had seen in my dream.

The girl named Ver, who was also referred to as the goddess of fate, and had some sort of relationship with Moon’s Postilion.

She was so breathtakingly beautiful in person.

She had slightly wavy and soft-looking blonde hair, with deep mysterious eyes. Her body was wrapped in a garment made from a single piece of silk, and her feet were clad in lace up sandals. On top of all this, a smile seemed to never leave her lips.

Even the air around her glittered like small stars vanishing.

‘Goddess’ seemed to be more than just a moniker now.

As I stared at her, fascinated, she giggled lightly.

Even her most idle gestures were exceptionally mysterious, as well as polished.

“…Who are…” Her hand moved as if to interrupt my question.

“I’m Verdandi, but you can simply call me Ver.”

Part 3

With highly elegant and deft movements, from her slender fingers she somehow produced a…

Party cracker?

An instant later, she pulled the string and the cracker made a pop, sending confetti fluttering all around me like a small paper snowfall.

It was such a ridiculous act, I was left bewildered.

That silliness completely crumbled the aura of her mysterious appearance.

“Congratulations on your marriage, congratulations on your marriage, congratulations on your marriage.”

She daintily clapped her hands—so lightly, they didn’t even produce a sound.

“Clap clap clap clap~”

Because of that, or maybe for a completely different reason, she voiced out the sound effects herself.

After thinking about it for a moment, I decided to ignore it.

I decided to go to sleep, and even though that seemed like a weird thing to do in a dream, I still closed my eyes.

But the claps, or rather, the voice that was saying ‘clap’, didn’t seem to be quieting down at all.

It became a test of endurance, and in the end, I was the one who lost.

Sighing, I combed my hair upwards and, without even bothering to hide my bad mood, I said:

“Thank you very much. And goodbye.”

“I went through all this trouble to come and congratulate you, but all I get is just a very brusque greeting.”

In response to what I said, Ver clearly looked dejected as her shoulders fell.

When she moved, waves rippled through her golden hair, making it shine with a bright luster. I started fiddling my hair with my fingers, the rough feeling hurting me ever so slightly.

“I don’t have a reason to welcome you. There also isn’t even a reason for you to congratulate me.”

She smiled, seemingly troubled, and lifted her slender fingers to gently grasp a tuft of hair that was resting on her shoulder.

Her finger slid down till the ends of her hair at her hips, and she lightly kissed it.

“You have really nice hair. I’m so jealous.”

This girl, with her shining blonde hair, was talking utter nonsense.

She pulled her hand back as I extended mine, firmly grasping onto her silky hair. It easily flowed through my hand, not a single kink in sight.

“There is no need for formalities. Could you please move on to the main topic?” I confronted her without letting go of her hair.

“Didn’t I tell it to you just a minute ago?” Completely disregarding my cold attitude, she placed her fingers on top of mine.

“I came to congratulate you on your marriage.”

The feeling of cold and warm skin touching was like living silk.

Her face came closer to mine, and I saw her deep blue eyes staring at my deadpan face as she sealed her crimson lips shut.

When she was close enough to kiss me, she smiled sweetly.

The sight was so beautiful, it mesmerized even a girl like me—I felt like I was being poisoned bit by bit, simply by staring at her.

That smile appeared to be perfectly clear, yet it had a playful bearing—innocent and pure, but also mature and mischievous at the same time.

My free hand instinctively reached for my pocket.

I searched for the pocket knife that I had snatched from Mouse’s arm, but it seemed that I hadn’t brought it with me into the dream.

As much as I was able to, I tried squirming around to shake her off, but her grip on me was stronger than I imagined. She then wrapped her free arm around my back.

It was almost like a love scene.

“Don’t push me away, Saki.” Even her words seemed fitting.

“I only came to fulfill your wish.”

‘Wish’… that word sounded so foreign to me. There wasn’t a single thing that I deemed worthy of wishing for.

But her eyes seemed to peer deep within me.

“You had a dream,” Ver said in a sweet tone, almost like a song as she caressed the hair behind my back with her slender fingers.

“A dream about a chariot traversing through the cosmos, a dream about a young man called the Moon’s Postilion, a dream about a power just slightly too excessive to exist in the human world.”

“And that was supposed to be your present?”

She raised the corners of her mouth slightly while I clamped my lips shut and glared at her from close proximity. It seemed as if I could hear the beats of her heart.

“What use do you think I would have for a dream?”

“It wasn’t a dream.” She lightly shook her head, her soft hair fluttering a little. “My present…was the past.”

That sentence exceeded the limits of my understanding. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. She didn’t seem to be bothered by it, however, as she continued talking nonchalantly.

“You used to be human,” she continued after a pause.

“But then you became the bride of a wolf, and ate a wolf’s flesh. You threw away your humanity and decided to step into this realm.”

I nodded, and she nodded in return.

“Welcome, to the ancient world built upon pride and reason. Where fairies sing, spirits dance, knights dominate, and wizards run rampant towards the eternity that will destroy all.”

The image of the wolves flashed through my mind. Images of the explosive and violent power of the wind and shadow were etched into my eyes.

“I don’t have any power.” That was the undeniable truth.

“If you throw your humanity away, you must receive power equal to the one you lost as compensation.”

She loosened her hand on my back and let it fall down.

“In exchange for limitless absence and eternal wandering, I present to you the past of Moon’s Postilion. So now, rise higher, change the past and remake your current self.”

She stretched her left hand out to the endless, vacant sky and grabbed something, pulling an object out of thin air.

“Eat this.”

As she said that, she pushed the object up to my nose—it was a crimson heart, covered in blood.

I grabbed it with both of my hands and held it tightly, wrapping my fingers around it.

“Eat this god’s heart just like you ate the wolf’s. And with that, you will be reborn.”

I did as I was told, and after opening my lips that I had been pressing shut till now, I stuffed the heart inside.

“Power to the eternal orphan, ” she chanted. “Let karma be with you, karma befitting the child who was shunned by the world where people amass piles of corpses, wandering down various paths of blood.”

With my tongue and teeth, I pushed the chunk of flesh down to my stomach.

I could feel my body burning up and my heart beating more violently as my vision slowly started to turn red.

Then, a shrill sound of awakening resounded, destroying everything that it encountered as her silhouette started to fade as well.

The white world was also collapsing on itself.

“Good day, Tsukagi Saki. Good day, Tsukagi Saki. Good day, Tsukagi Saki.”

Inside the black that had crept out from all directions, hungrily devouring this world, only her beautiful voice could be distinguished.

“Let us meet again when you have liberated yourself of all the shackles that bind you now and, in the literal sense, ceased being human.”

The dream disintegrated completely, and I was plunged into darkness.

~~~

When I opened my eyes, I was lying on the bed that I was all too familiar with, and I could also see Shiro resting beside me.

It appeared that he was already awake.

“Good morning,” he said with a light tone.

“Good morning,” I responded.

I lightly tapped my low volume alarm clock to silence it.

“Shiro, are you acquaintances with a beautiful white girl?”

He pulled a bewildered expression, as if wondering why I was asking such a weird question, and then shook his head.

“I don’t know if it’s something I can brag about, but I haven’t seen a single white person in my entire life.”

That was quite the obvious answer, after all, he was a wolf that had been living in the forest until recently.

Still, that was a really bizarre dream. Ultimately though, I guess a dream is just a dream in the end.

“Why do you ask? Did something happen between you and a white girl?”

“It’s nothing.”

As I said so, I got up from the bed, walked over to the mirror on the dresser, and picked up my summer uniform.

Then, I undid the sash of my sleeping robe and placed it on a hanger.

“Please,” I heard him start grumbling behind me. “At least make sure that I’m looking elsewhere when you undress.”

“I don’t mind it. After all, it’s not a big deal.”

He let out an audible sigh.

“It’s not my fault that it bothers me.”

“You say some really innocent things, from time to time. What is going to become of you if you get so flustered with only this level of eye candy?”

“I’m fine with whatever I end up becoming.”

I was trying to joke around a bit, but he seemed to really be tired of it when he replied and turned away.

I combed my hair backwards and let the robe slide off my body to the floor, pondering whether I had teased him too much…and after that, I took off my underwear.

“Shiro,” I called in a serious voice.

“Could you look here for a moment?”

Part 5

“What happened?”

I saw him turn his head to look at me in the reflection of the mirror.

Then, I spread my arms out and slowly did a full twirl.

“What…are those?” he inquired coldly, his ears jerking straight up in surprise.

“I’d like to know that myself.”

It was something like a black birthmark, sprawled upon my skin like a stripe. It extended from my toes all the way up to around the height of my elbow.

My body looked like a white box that was wrapped with a black ribbon.

Wrapping, gift, present.

My dream resurfaced, and along with it, the white girl and the smoothness of her hand.

It was as if that dream had amalgamated with reality, and as proof, I should have received some sort of power, or so Ver had said.

I traced my finger over the black ribbons for a while, but it simply felt like I was touching my skin.

In the end, I decided to stop thinking about it and changed into my summer uniform.

“Are you feeling unwell?”

“I’m completely fine.” My body that is, I couldn’t say the same regarding my mental state.

I had no idea where the power that Ver mentioned was stored.

I slowly massaged my slim chest. Deep within it, I could feel light heartbeats.

The heartbeats of a wolf’s heart, a god’s heart, and a human’s heart.

There was no disparity between them, it was simply tranquil.

“When I liberate myself from my shackles, huh,” I murmured to myself as I fetched my bag and checked the time.

Even though I had woken up at the same time as usual, it seemed that I was going to be late. Not that it mattered much to me anyway.

I went down to the first floor. There, I couldn’t feel my mother’s presence, and my step father seemed to have already left for work.

The TV in the living room had been left on and it was currently showing the morning news.

In one segment, they mentioned the discovery of a large dog’s corpse. In another segment, a mysterious intruder had slaughtered the animals that were being sheltered in a health care center, and a girl had been attacked by a stray dog.

There was nothing but dogs all over the news.

A commentator with a face like a monkey’s was giving his hypothesis on what seemed to be the most plausible reason behind this case.

Everything he uttered couldn’t have been further away from the truth, but the rest of the staff all nodded in approval.

I knew exactly what had happened, but there was probably no one who would believe me.

It’s not like there was anyone who could even begin to understand.

For most people, reality was just like that. They only saw what they wanted to see.

“I’m leaving,” I lightly muttered to no one in particular as I turned the TV off.

No one responded. It seemed like today was going to be another cold day.

There were no clouds in the sky, yet the sunshine was a bit too dull.

~~~

When I arrived at the front gates, it was less than five minutes til the bell was going to ring, and I barely managed to enter the classroom in time.

The classroom was unusually quiet, almost as if they were all afraid of something, and it seemed that Budworm was already back.

Her brown hair was in disarray, and she was wearing a short skirt coupled with white knee socks. The place where Shiro had slashed her, her left eye, was covered in bandages and the long ends hung low on her shoulders.

Her scarf was carelessly worn, and if one peeked from above, it would probably be possible to see her chest.

She had also lost some weight.

Her right eye glared directly at me with enmity.

Its dark lustre was reminiscent of a sharpened blade, out of place in this cold autumn day.

I wilfully walked up to her.

“Good morning.”

There was no reply to my greeting. She merely spoke in a monologue-like tone.

“–told me that we should never see each other again.”

The most important part of the sentence was left out, so I had no idea what she was trying to say.

“Who told you that?”

“Aya.”

“…Who is that?”

I immediately heard the sound of grating teeth.

“Aya, Natsume Aya. The girl who was always by my side. Don’t tell me you forgot her already?!”

“Ahh.” She was talking about Mouse.

“–––!!”

She stood up indignantly and swiftly grabbed me by the collar.

Her hands shook as she grit her teeth and glared at me with her right eye.

She was a whirlpool of negativity—grief, rage, hatred, anguish, remorse and vexation.

Part 6

“Hey.” I grabbed her hands.

“What do you expect to achieve by telling me that?” I asked her sternly. She let a bitter smile form on her lips, before releasing me and sitting down again.

Then, she placed her elbows on the desk and buried her face in her palms.

“I hate you,” she said in a feeble voice, as if in pain.

“So what?”

She never answered. In the end, I never understood what she was trying to tell me back then.

I flipped my hair away and sighed.

“Well then, excuse me,” I told her and went to sit at my own desk. Just as I sat, the bell rang.

Only then did I notice that I didn’t know Budworm’s name.

~~~

During lunch break, I went to receive my new uniform.

After all that uproar from before was settled, my uniform that was submerged in the toilet was disposed of and never returned to me, so I had to order a new one.

The designated clothing store for the uniforms also had a delivery service, so I made use of it.

Apparently it would be delivered to me after going through a few intermediaries, first from the store to the school, then from the school to the homeroom teacher, and lastly, from the homeroom teacher to me.

I had received a notice that the uniform was already here, so I went to the staff room and started looking for my teacher.

I was slightly worried since I couldn’t remember his face at all, but then one of the teachers raised his hand and called out to me.

He was a middle-aged man with nothing that stood out in particular about him apart from his dark blue tracksuit.

“Tsukagi, over here. Your new uniform has arrived.”

I headed towards him and noticed that there were two large paper bags leaning against his desk.

He handed one of them to me, and I checked the contents. The sailor uniform, a scarf, left over  cloth, and a receipt were there. It was a complete set.

“Thank you.” There wasn’t really any need for it, but I still said it regardless.

Satisfied, he nodded, then hesitantly began talking.

“Now then… is school fun for you, Tsukagi?”

“It is.”

“I see… Then everything’s good.” He was clearly forcing a smile. “Still, if anything bothers you, don’t hesitate to tell me–”

“–because teacher is my friend, right?” I finished the line.

He stared at me in confusion for a moment, then cleared his throat awkwardly.

I smiled formally and continued:

“I’ll be relying on you then.”

“No-no-no, no need to act so formal. This is my job after all.”

Yes, that was correct.

He had ignored acts like bullying before, but now he was trying to avoid getting involved in a case that would attract a lot of attention. If a case of—let’s say—suicide happened in his class, his future career would be compromised.

And that was pretty much all he cared about.

It was normal for a teacher to have such concerns. I didn’t mind that kind of mindset at all, but I found his two-faced behavior rather revolting.

“I understand,” I responded like a regular student, obedient and unaware of the world, and nodded.

I heard the door opening and reflexively turned to look who it was.

A girl wearing a tawny blazer, and a dark green colored necktie and skirt stood there. The name ‘Shiina’ was embroidered on her chest.

She had large prominent eyes that were very rounded, wavy short hair, and a friendly smile that reminded me of a sunflower.

Immediately after, she surveyed the room, turning her head around with exaggerated motions.

Her eyes stopped when they found my visage, and she lightly waved her hand as if trying to make a friend, before bouncing over to where I was.

“Oh, so you are finally here,” the teacher said softly, and looking at me, he continued: “She is a transfer student and she’s here today to finish arranging everything. Treat her well.”

I don’t want to. “I understand.”

The girl bowed, still standing, and smiled.

“Sorry. I got lost on the way here and ended up arriving late.”

She had a soft voice—so gentle, it seemed as though it was flowing into my body.

“Oh, so that’s what happened… Well, you could have just contacted me, and I would have gone to find you.”

“It’s fine, really. After all, I was able to familiarise myself with the school layout thanks to that.”

They found that funny for some reason and started laughing together.

After the laughter died down, she extended her hand towards me and looked into my eyes.

Part 7

I remained silent and ignored her. A couple of seconds later, she spoke up again.

“I’m Shiina Tsukasa. You can call me Tsuka-chan.”

“Got it, Tsukasa-san,” I answered in a monotonous voice and shook her hand.

“Hey, hey, is this the trope where the class representative takes the new transfer student on a tour around the school?”

Strangely pleased with her conjecture, she enthusiastically shook my hand.

“That’s wrong on at least two fronts.”

As soon as I felt her grip loosen, I swiftly slipped my hand out of hers.

She then stared at my now free hand, her already round eyes becoming even rounder.

Unmoving, she let out a small sigh.

No matter how I looked at her, she was the most troublesome kind of person to deal with. Just seeing her visage made me want to look away.

“Would you look at that! You have already become friends with each other.”

As if trying to liven up the mood, the teacher spoke with an ill-fitted bright tone.

“Yeah, at this rate, we’ll be besties by tomorrow.”

And Tsukasa joined the bandwagon. I just continued staring at them silently, my face completely expressionless.

Their laughter slowly faded, ultimately stopping altogether. Then she spoke up again with a smile, unaffected by my attitude.

“Can you tell me your name?”

“Tsukagi Saki.”

“That’s a really beautiful name.”

“It doesn’t suit me.”

“It does, and very much so at that.”

For just an instant, a lonely expression flit across her face. An expression that was full of emotion, as if she was looking at a distant star which she would never be able to reach and touch.

“Is it alright if I call you Sacchan?”

But as if by some sort of magic, she immediately concealed it with a smile.

“Rejected.”

“Urgh, you really are way too stubborn,” she grumbled lowly through a faint smile as her fingertips started toying with her curly hair.

I remained silent, keeping my eyes fixed on her.

The teacher then interrupted us with a wry smile, trying to smooth over the conversation.

“Well now, Tsukagi is a bit…special. It’s already pretty amazing that you’ve been able to hold a conversation with her for this long.”

That was a really modest description, although it was only partly true.

“So, she’s more of a ‘Mysterious Girl’ type of person, I see,” she commented with an intrigued tone. The way she spoke could easily be interpreted as rude, but maybe due to the friendly aura she gave off, it usually wasn’t taken as such.

I really couldn’t stand her.

“If you’ll excuse me now.”

I turned around and was about to leave when–––

“Ah.” She grabbed ahold of my hair.

I turned around and peered into her eyes. Her cheeks had turned beet red.

“I just wanted to say that I’ll be looking forward to being with you from tomorrow and…”

“Can you take your hand off?”

“You have really nice hair. It’s silky and feels similar to the touch of an expensive dress.”

Her fingers started playing with my hair, just like they had been doing with her own hair a moment ago.

“Your hand, please,” I repeated.

Finally, she let go of my hair, and I walked away.

“She has a cool attitude and is so pretty… Hahh, it feels a bit unfair.”

By the time I had exited the room, I could barely hear her.

A ray of sunlight leaked through the gaps in the clouds and hit me right in the face, causing me to knit my brows slightly and turn my head away.

Then, I looked at my watch and noticed that there was still quite a bit of time left for lunch break to end.

I walked all the way to the end of the hallway, looking for a dim place that did not stand out too much, and rested my chin on the handrail there.

Over on the sports field, students were happily playing soccer or volleyball.

I started staring at them absentmindedly, but they didn’t catch even the least bit of my attention.

All I could see was that they were playing sports, nothing more.

“Shiro,” I called out, but he didn’t appear.

It was still daytime, and he was already like this.

He had been acting like this ever since the day he killed Silent Steps.

I understood that he was fighting against the forest. The wolves would definitely not overlook the murder of a fellow wolf.

But everyday when school is over, he would appear from out of nowhere, acting as if nothing had happened.

He probably didn’t want me to notice.

This place was fairly safe for now. I didn’t need to fear for my life, and I wouldn’t also be attacked by any of the wolves.

But that was it.

As long as I stayed here, I was going to be completely alone.

There were still three hours, sixteen minutes, and forty eight seconds left till school ended.

And I’d be by myself for all that time, waiting for the wolf to come back.

Waiting for the silver wolf to come back, exuding the stench of fresh blood.

“…Idiot,” I murmured to myself and furiously kicked the wall.

Part 8

I felt a sudden dull pain in my foot, and it only added to my vexation.

I wanted to be beside Shiro. I couldn’t keep my calm in this place. I felt like a fish that was stranded ashore.

“Seriously, it’s unfair. Even your appearance when you hit and kick stuff like that is beautiful. It’s so unfair.”

I suddenly heard a cheerful voice. And it was a voice of someone whom I thought had been left behind earlier.

Biting my lip, I answered that voice without turning around.

“Are you spying on me?”

“You see, I wanted to talk with you, but you suddenly kicked the wall, you know?”

As she answered my question, she moved to my side and peeked at my face from down low.

Her large eyes sparkled like a kid’s and appeared to be even brighter in this dark place.

“But well, this is something that happened a bit before I moved, actually,” she began, as her eyes narrowed and she looked past my face into the distance behind me. “Near my home, I saw a scrawny dog.”

In her distant eyes, I saw my own reflection. A face that looked like ice and nothing like a dog’s.

“I always saw him standing by the same street light. All the other dogs were driven away by the city council or something, but the scrawny one always overpowered them and continued standing there by that street light.”

She paused for a moment to place her finger on my lips.

“Now here’s my question. What happened to that dog in the end?”

I answered:

“It starved itself to death.”

“That’s correct.” Her finger left my lips. “For some reason, whenever I see you, I’m reminded of that dog. Scrawny, tattered and lacerated, but still an exceptionally beautiful dog.”

“So what?”

“Nothing, that’s it.” Her eyes focused on me again, her face still smiling.

“Good bye,” I told her, and walked away.

“Hey, Sacchan.”

This time she didn’t grab my hair.

“Isn’t it painful to live like that?”

The tone of her voice was unusually serious, almost sad, when she asked me that.

I didn’t answer, nor did I turn around.

All I wanted was to find a place where I could change into the winter uniform that I had just bought.

Shiina Tsukasa was the last thing on my mind.

~~~

It was still too early to be calling it sunset when I started heading back home together with Shiro. Probably because of all the recent incidents, Shiro’s large silhouette attracted a lot of unwanted attention from the people passing by, but I decided to ignore them.

It would be a pain to deal with otherwise.

Since I was wearing the winter uniform now, I wasn’t feeling as cold as before.

In the midst of our idle chatter, I slowly reached out to his back, and picked up a gray hair that was left there.

A wolf’s hair, the remnant of a fight and a fragment of a dead body.

“Is something there?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Alright then.”

We both came to an abrupt halt.

We were close to the place where we first met, on the road that lay in the gorge between the forest and the city.

In the short time between yesterday and today, something that could only be described as a kind of stand had been set up there.

Apart from that, there was also a table and six chairs. They were all roughly built from what seemed to be varnished timber, which made them appear as though they were part of the forest itself. It all fit cohesively.

Beside the stand was a sign with some sort of label, but we were standing too far away to make anything out of what was written there.

But just that wouldn’t have been enough to make us stop.

The other components that made up the scene were far more eye-catching.

A man was standing there, wearing a light blue aloha shirt, a striking pink bandana, and gold rimmed sunglasses. In addition to all this, his hair was also bleached so much, it was almost white.

Positioned inside the stand, he boiled water with an idiotic grin plastered on his face while wearing a pink apron that matched his bandana.

Many questions were already piling up in my mind, but the main one was probably what he was even thinking, building a stand by this road that almost no one passed through. There were a few houses along the road, but they were all built in such a manner that they faced away from the forest, so even their tenants would only rarely go this way.

“…What is that supposed to be?”

“I’d like to ask that myself.”

Shiro looked at me and we both stared at each other for a while, then shrugged at the same time.

Then we proceeded to continue walking as if we hadn’t seen anything, but–––

“Heeey you two! Don’t you think it’s a bit too harsh to just pass like that and ignore me? I’m a little hurt.”

We had no choice but to stop.

Part 9

It never crossed my mind that there could be someone who could  so nonchalantly call out to a pair like us. A girl in a sailor uniform being accompanied by an enormous white wolf.

Ignoring his getup and his attitude, there was either something very weird going on in his head, or he just had a lot of courage.t Nonetheless, he was a truly bizarre character.

If at that very moment, someone had told me that he was a traveler coming from an entirely different world, I would have been convinced–––and I had a hunch that it wasn’t too far away from the truth.

Both of us stood still and I only turned my head to look at him, saying in a fairly loud voice as I held my hair back:

“I don’t have any money.”

“Ah, it’ll be my treat. A special service to celebrate the opening.”

His sunglasses glistened as they reflected the setting sun.

It seemed that he was one step ahead of us.

Not only had he utilized the fact that I had no money, but also implied that he wanted something other than money from me.

Reluctantly, we walked over to the stand.

I had been unable to read the handwriting on the sign earlier, but it was still illegible even from up close.

‘Tea Shop’ was written vertically, and beside it… a symbol that resembled a megaphone was there.

“It’s an elder rune known as Peorð[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peor%C3%B0 ; Also known as the rune of fate..

‘Tea Shop Peorth’, it felt like a rather decent name in all honesty.

“I see,” I said as I sat at the counter. Shiro hopped onto the seat beside mine.

The bandana guy didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all as he swiftly served us two cups of black tea.

Warm steam and the gentle scent of tea rose in puffs, as it mixed with the cold wind scattering away.

I held my cup with both hands, wrapping my fingers around it I lifted it up. It’s warmth passed through the ceramic, slowly seeping into my fingers, and without realizing, I had already let out a relieved sigh.

On the surface of the dark orange pool of water, my habitually cold and deadpan face was reflected.

I pursed my lips, then lightly blew out, causing small ripples to extend across the surface of the tea as my image vanished.

“Still, that’s a friggin’ large wolf you’ve got there. Is he perhaps your boyfriend?”

…A friggin’ large wolf, huh.

“He’s my husband.”

“Hmm, that makes sense.” He immediately appeared convinced. “He looks like a wolf that really suits you girlie—he reminds me of a red wolf that I always saw over in that northern country.”

“A red wolf?”

“He was quite an interesting dude, but also rather violent. He almost chomped me to death that other time. I heard he was around here so I came to find him, but I can’t find him no matter where I look.”

“I see,” I replied monotonously as I took a sip of tea.

It tasted so good, it surprised me.

I could drink it even without adding milk or sugar. Or rather, it was such an exquisite flavor that I wouldn’t dare to add anything to it. It had a very sweet fragrance, and a warmth that permeated my entire body.

At first, I thought it would be a rather low quality product, judging from the person who prepared it, but in this, I was really surprised.

It probably even showed on my face.

“It’s tasty, right? Being able to make that is probably the only thing I can really boast about.”

It was hard to make out with his sunglasses on, but I could clearly imagine his entire face smiling brightly.

“It is tasty,” I reluctantly muttered as I pushed my hair back.

He loudly clapped once, delighted.

“Now, now, there’s nothing that brings more joy to this ol’ man than a gloomy beautiful girl like you missy, complimenting me.”

“My name is Saki,” I cut him off.

“I see, I see, that was rude of me, I’m–––”

“I don’t need to know that, I’m not interested.”

A loud sigh came from him, then he spread his arms and looked towards the heavens.

“You might be beautiful, but you really have such a bad personality.”

“I get that a lot, though only the last part.”

He sighed again, then shook his head as if to recover his mood. After that he pointed at me.

“By the way, would you like to try working part time here?”

I slowly swivelled around to look at the surroundings.

Apart from me and him, there was no person in sight, child or grown, nor were there any cats or birds. I couldn’t even spot a single bug.

Part 10

He seemed to have realized what I meant from my behavior alone, but still he simply shrugged.

“If I had a cute girl working here, even if it was only for the looks, at least some customers would come. That’s what I was thinking…”

I placed the cup back on the table, causing a new wave of ripples in it.

“If what you want are customers, then I think choosing a better spot would be a wiser option.”

“But I like this place.” He shrugged again as he said this.

I didn’t have anything else to say, so I finished drinking my tea.

“Would you like a refill?”

“I’ll take you up on the offer.”

“Think of this as a form of special service for a beautiful girl—it’s my special blend.”

He happily served another cup—this time, its color was more like green tea.

The scent wasn’t bad, and there was something like apple mixed into it.

I drank it–––and spat it out.

It was sour, bitter, spicy and sweet, all at the same time. This kind of drink would probably be the product of preparing proper tom yum goong and then mixing it with aojiru[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_yum and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aojiru.

In any case, it tasted like pure evil.

I was seriously choking but he just laughed as he watched me, delighted from the bottom of his heart.

I poured what was left of the tea on his annoying face and slammed the cup on the counter.

The entire stand shook, and a crack appeared on the cup.

He took out a handkerchief and wiped off the tea trickling down on him, then threw it away.

“Thanks for treating me, now good bye.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, did I actually make you mad?”

At that moment, a rustling noise came from the forest.

My entire body suddenly grew tense.

By instinct, my hand shot into my pocket and grabbed the pocket knife. Shiro leaped down from his seat and protectively stood in front of me.

But all that came out were a couple of small children.

“Woah, what a large dog!”

It was a girl and a boy—the boy being the one who had just shouted.

They were probably still elementary schoolers, and in first or second year at that.

The boy was wearing brown knee length pants and an ultramarine sweatshirt. His hair was cut short and unevenly, with a lively face beneath all that. The girl was wearing a yellow dress, coupled with a jacket of the same color as well as long socks that had a cat pattern printed on them.

She kept looking back and forth between Shiro and the boy repeatedly. Maybe because of the cold weather, her face was slightly red, and her slightly longer than shoulder length hair was tied with a hair band.

Strangely enough, they were positioned in a similar manner to me and Shiro as the boy stood in front, guiding the girl by the hand and shielding her.

At once, all the tension that had been building up inside me dispersed. The boy then ran towards Shiro, his eyes sparkling.

The girl followed him, as if being pulled along by him. She looked scared, but it seemed that she trusted the boy as she wasn’t refusing to follow him. For a second, Budworm and Mouse flashed through my mind.

“Hey big sis, does he bite?” He seemed to really want to touch Shiro, and kept trying to reach out with his hand.

“He doesn’t. He’s really gentle.”

“GRARR!!”

As soon as I said that Shiro roared.

Deliberately opening his mouth wide, he bared his fangs. He was making fun of them.

The children fell to the ground, terrified.

Then the boy stood up and spread his arms out to shield the girl, his shoulders trembling in fear.

I lightly hit Shiro on the head with my palm.

“Don’t go scaring them now.”

He nodded lightly and his ears fell lifelessly, looking like a kid who had been caught red-handed pulling a prank.

“I’m sorry, you two,” I told them.

“It’s fine, I don’t mind,” the boy said.

Nervously holding her yellow skirt, the girl said timidly:

“Still, that’s a big dog…Do you think I could ride on his back?” She was still scared, but her curiosity seemed to overpower her fear.

“Yes, you can. Would you like to try?”

“Is it alright?” they asked together.

“He’ll do it as an apology for what happened earlier, right?”

I heard Shiro sigh deeply. I just held my hair back and giggled to myself.

Part 11

He resigned himself to his fate and crouched down after a while. Then, the two children climbed nervously onto his back.

“He’s so soft!” the girl said in admiration.

Shiro slowly stood back up, taking care not to shock them again, and started walking slowly.

Both of them exclaimed loudly, borderline cheering and screaming at the same time.

Keeping a steady pace, Shiro started walking faster.

Somehow it seemed that even he was starting to enjoy it.

I returned to the counter once again.

“…What is it?” I asked the bandana guy, who was grinning from ear to ear.

“No~thing really. I was just thinking that you also have a cute side after all.”

“Shut up.” I folded my arms and looked away.

His smile grew even bigger as he observed my reaction.

I took a cup and shoved it in his direction, requesting another serving. While I sipped at it, I waited for Shiro and the kids to finish playing.

I ended up drinking two more cups of black tea, after which I didn’t feel like drinking any more.

The two kids finally stepped down from Shiro’s back after a while, but even as their feet returned to the ground, their faces were still lit with excitement and satisfaction. The girl stood out the most, smiling so much that she looked almost like a completely different person from before.

She had sparked some sort of interest in Shiro’s mouth and was peeking into it intently, touching his fangs and his tongue. He seemed to be feeling very ticklish, but he endured the urge to close his jaws on her hand, the muscles on his face twitching.

“You two had fun?”

They both nodded vigorously.

For some reason, I myself found the way I was smiling weird.

“That reminds me, why were the two of you inside the forest?”

“We were exploring.”

“Now that’s a dangerous thing to do,” the bandana guy butted in. “There are some scary wolves living in this forest. If you are careless, they’ll eat you.”

“B-but…” The boy started stuttering, trying to say something back.

“It’s fine if you don’t want to tell us.”

When I said that, the kids looked at each other.

The girl nodded at the boy, who seemed to understand what she meant and nodded back.

“Big sis seems like a nice person so we’ll tell you. But promise that you won’t  tell anyone.” He held his index finger to his lips as he spoke.

I squatted and leaned closer to him.

“You know, in her house,” —he pointed at the girl with his thumb— “Her parents keep yelling at each other all the time and it’s scary. To make it worse, they always keep hitting her. That’s why she always keeps running away to my house, but her parents come and take her back.”

I looked at the girl, trying not to seem suspicious. I couldn’t see any signs of  injuries on the parts of her body left uncovered by her dress and jacket, and she also didn’t seem malnourished.

At least it wasn’t the worst case scenario yet.

“That’s why we are going to run away when we are bigger, and we’ll live together in the forest. No one will bother us that way.”

“I see…That sounds like a wonderful plan.”

“It’s not wonderful at all. It’d be so much better if we could live with everyone else without having to run away,” he said in an alarmed tone, but I shook my head.

“You might have a point there, but I still believe it’s a wonderful plan.”

I started ruffling his hair.

He looked somewhat bashful as I did that.

Then I looked at the girl and said:

“You’ve found yourself a wonderful prince.”

Her face turned beet red and she looked down in shame, murmuring, “His name is Kou-chan.”

“That’s a nice name. I’m called Saki, Tsukagi Saki.”

“I’m Yuuka.”

She smiled shyly.

“Let’s meet again sometime.”

“Yeah!” Yuuka nodded, and Kou did so as well.

They held hands, and just like when they came, they disappeared into the forest.

I waved at them, and Shiro saw them off silently.

“It is a detestable world we are in, huh.”

Likely having eavesdropped on the entire conversation, the bandana guy sighed loudly and put away the towel he had been using to dry a cup.

“This isn’t anything new, really.”

“That’s why I say it’s a detestable world. No one corrects their mistakes.”

“Now that is something more recent. The number of people who believe that they can still be saved even if they leave their mistakes uncorrected is surprisingly high. You can’t possibly look at this world and continue dreaming about a place where everything is built solely with good things.”

“Well, yeah…” He smiled wryly and lightly tapped his stand with his fingertips. “Hypothetically, if the world was built fairly and only with good intentions, how do you think that’d be?”

I didn’t even need to think in order to answer that.

“It would be a world devoid of life.”

Part 12

“…Yeah, that might be true. But it’s also quite sad if you were to think about it like that.”

I didn’t say anything else, took out a 1,000 Yen note from my wallet and placed it on the counter.

He shook his head and pushed it back.

“I told you that it was my treat. Rather than this, I’d be glad to see you again—I really welcome pretty girls. Especially ones with bad attitudes.”

It appeared that he had a rather wicked taste in women.

I shut my eyes and spoke as I pulled my hair back at the same time.

“This comes on my way home, so I’ll pass by every day. Only passing by though, nothing more.”

“That’s fine by me. Oh right, almost forgot about this one last thing.”

He turned his eyes towards Shiro who was sitting on the ground.

“Wolf-kun, don’tcha wanna try some tea? It’s really tasty.”

He glanced at the cup that he had readied for Shiro earlier.

It had already gone cold, but Shiro didn’t seem to mind it at all as he hopped back onto the seat and poured the contents of the entire cup into his mouth, gulping down all of it at once.

“It’s tasty, right?”

Shiro remained silent, mirrored by myself and even the the bandana guy too.

And just like that, we parted ways.

As we were making our way back home, Shiro suddenly came to a halt and looked up at the sky.

“…Thinking about those children…” he murmured, as though he was giving a monologue. I waited for him to continue.

“I hope they can live well.”

“They’ll be fine.”

“I wonder…”

“They will be.”

I truly hoped for their wellbeing.

“Yes, let’s hope for the best,” he muttered, in a seemingly prayer-like manner. Then he let out a sigh, and turned to look forward again.

“But still, you know.”

“Yes?”

“That person with the weird clothing… I wonder who he really is.”

“He’s a weirdo,” I sighed as I pulled my hair back. “I feel like I keep running into weird people today.”

“The stars are probably just aligned strangely at the moment.”

“That might be it.”

The weather is cold today, the same as before.

The wind that blew from time to time was strong and dry. I held my wildly fluttering hair down and looked up at the sky.

The sun was about to set, and the sky was bathed in a crimson red.

Nothing else appeared there, and it seemed like I could peek into the end of the beautiful sky with no obstructions in my way.

~~~

And thus, yet another day passed.

Just like usual, I was committing my time to school. Even though I saw no sense in doing it.

It could be said that it was the only human habit I had. And my time there was just dull.

Budworm was once again glaring at me intently with her right eye, just like yesterday.

Ever since Mouse was gone, her behaviour was increasingly becoming more and more wild.

Her previously well-kept hair was now unkempt, the bandage covering her left eye had been carelessly tied with both ends dangling about, and her uniform had been worn out of shape too,  covered all over in wrinkles.

She looked ready to murder anyone who dared to even speak to her.

I greeted her by bowing and smiling, but she looked away in discomfort.

There was violent enmity infused  even in that simple act. It was an enmity made in order to conceal her true emotions.

It took me a while to notice that the model student was sitting beside her as his presence had become really dull lately. His fairly well-shaped face was weighted down with a grim expression, and his arm was strapped and covered in a plaster cast.

It broke, or perhap someone had broken it—it seemed to me that it was probably the latter.

Once again, I ended up overhearing Budworm’s actual name, and then homeroom commenced.

Before the teacher entered the classroom, he left a girl outside.

“Err, let me introduce a transfer student to all of you.”

After his expected line, the rest that followed was like a scripted act. The door opened, and the girl wearing a tawny blazer as well as a moss green necktie and skirt passed through it with an amiable smile.

The teacher wrote her name on the blackboard, and she read it out loud.

“I’m Shiina Tsukasa, it’s nice to meet you all.”

Following her generic greeting, out of all things that she could have done, she chose to look at me and wave.

“How are you, Sacchan? Haven’t seen you since yesterday.”

I didn’t reply, and looked away outside the window instead, into the scenery.

The dry wind was raising clouds of dust from the playing field, staining the sky.

It looked like today was going to be rather windy day.

Part 13

“You looked very fierce yesterday, but today you are really cold.”

In a highly exaggerated manner, she lowered her head and pretended to cry.

Upon seeing that, the entire classroom grew noisy and I felt slightly nauseated.

“Alright everyone, I know this might be really unusual, but shut up now.”

The teacher spoke in a strong, almost rude manner, and once the classroom was silent again, homeroom continued.

Tsukasa’s seat turned out to be the one right next to mine.

The teacher ordered the previous person to move backwards so as to allow for it.

He was hopeless when he tried to be caring, and when he was angered, he would shout so loudly.

I sighed internally.

“Sacchan, it’s nice to be with you.”

Her smile was reflected in the window.

“…Yeah sure, whatever.”

I sighed again, but this time it wasn’t only internally.

“Sacchan, can you show me your notes?”

“No.”

~~~

“Sacchan, let’s have lunch together. We can join our desks and exchange some of the food in our lunchboxes~”

“Eat by yourself.”

I usually ate in the cafeteria in the first place.

~~~

“Sacchan Sacchan Sacchan!”

“What is it now?”

“I just felt like calling you.”

I felt like killing her.

~~~

“Sacchaaaaaaaaaan!”

“Shut up.”

“The teacher is calling you.”

“…” I stood up silently.

“Just kidding~”

An urge to slap her face infected me, but when I saw her smile, I didn’t feel like doing even that.

~~~

Having been fully occupied by Tsukasa, class ended. Absolutely nothing from the entire class remained in my head.

I felt mentally exhausted, and I found myself sighing in relief now that class was over.

Tsukasa started scurrying nimbly around the now-noisy classroom from one side to another like a cat.

“Sacchan, should we go play somewhere to enjoy the rest of the day?”

“Good bye.”

I tried to run away, but she reached out and grabbed my long hair, which in turn drew a black arc behind me.

“You know, about that dog, I decided that I’d definitely give it some food if I ever saw it again,” Shiina said in a low voice.

“Your hand,” I mumbled, but she refused to let go.

“I wanted to show it that there’s many more fun things in this world than starving to death.”

“Let go of me.”

I didn’t want to hear any more of her nonsense.

Biting my lip, I turned around and faced her. Deep in her friendly eyes, there was a hidden sorrow, and reflected on them was me—cold as the middle of winter and sharp as ice.

“Though I guess you are more like a wolf than a dog. A truly majestic and solitary wolf.”

She let go of my hair and it fluttered back down.

“Shut up!” I shouted, and the entire class turned around to look at me in fear.

Immediately afterwards, I froze back my heart that had started to throb.

Then continued with a cold stare and a chilly voice that resounded with a steely note.

“Starving to death would be a much better outcome.”

“You know, I also like it when you are this grim.”

Her voice sounded painfully gentle. And most likely, anyone could tell that she wasn’t pretending.

But even though I knew that she was being sincere, I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand a single thing about Shiina Tsukasa.

I just left quickly, as though running away.

~~~

In the blink of an eye, I had run past the school gates as well as countless street lamps, stopping after a while to lean against one and calm my ragged breath.

“What happened? Why are you so unsettled?” Shiro asked in astonishment, having leapt down nimbly from a street lamp.

And once again I could feel the aura of blood emanating from him.

It made me wonder just how many wolves still remained in the forest.

“I’m simply tired from having to deal with a weirdo that followed me everywhere.”

“Now that’s a pity.”

“Yeah, I feel rather defeated right now.”

“Well, no, I meant for the person who followed you around,” he said without delay.

I crouched next him without saying a word, then pulled on his cheeks.

“Dis ‘urts y’know” He was probably trying to say ‘This hurts you know’.

My lips stretched into a smile, and I just continued pulling on his cheeks.

He remained silent so I started using two hands.

“I’m ‘eely sho’ee.”

“Was that ‘I’m really sorry’?”

He quickly nodded.

I smiled even more and released him.

“Alright, I forgive you. But you should try to avoid saying such thoughtless things to a frail maiden.”

“I was just trying to make a silly joke.”

“I haven’t really been in a good mood lately.” Because you are not by my side.

He groaned, seemingly troubled.

After lightly stroking his chin, I stood up.

Then we started walking back home, me being in the lead. We encountered the stand again, but didn’t near it this time. I was tired, and the bandana guy wasn’t there. Instead, a ‘Closed’ sign was hung upon it.

Back at home, my crazed mother’s screams quickly put me to sleep shortly after I had changed into my bathrobe.

I still had one third left to read of ‘L’Etranger, the book I had borrowed from the library, and the main character had been thrown into court where I left off.

~~~

Part 14

Shortly after midnight, I was shaken awake.

Before I could ask what was going on, Shiro started to speak.

“I’m smelling a lot of oil, of different kinds, all around the house.”

“Arson?”

“Most probably.”

“This could become quite the bonfire then.” The current weather was quite arid.

“I recommend we leave immediately. Or if you want, I could go outside and slaughter the presence I felt loitering there, no matter who the perpetrator is.”

“No thanks. This is my enemy.”

“Your enemy is my enemy.”

“If that applied the other way around too, then I would gladly let you take care of everything,” I sarcastically said. I still didn’t know what Shiro was doing during the time I spent at school.

His face contorted a bit.

I stood up and started to quickly pack everything I needed.

The first thing I looked for was the knife I kept as weapon, and I slid it into the sash of my bathrobe. Then I grabbed my newly bought black sailor uniform, a change of underwear, cash and my bankbook, the book I was reading, and anything else I deemed necessary to live, stuffing them all into a backpack.

“You seem rather calm.”

“Would you find it cuter if I was freaking out?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

I ceased moving my hand that was busy packing things and looked at him.

“I’m used to danger. At the very least, stuff way more dangerous than handling a bizarre guy wearing a bandana, or being chased around by my very stressful classmates.”

After pondering about it for a bit, he seemed persuaded. But then…

“Oh, the fire was just lit.”

“How far away would you say the fire is right now?”

He closed his eyes and raised his ears, sniffing loudly through his nose. It seemed like he was able to sense the state of the situation outside to a certain degree, simply with those motions.

“It feels quite far away. They seem to have selected a decent spot to start the fire. I guess they have their heads screwed on straight.”

“How many of them are there?”

“I’d say two. One appears to be a female. The smell of oil is too strong so I’m not really sure though.”

WIthout realizing it, I started smiling faintly. They had just become slightly less boring.

Her figure  came to mind, with only one dark eye shining brightly and roughly applied bandages.

“She is most certainly my enemy.”

I closed the backpack shut.

Then opened the window and observed how the situation was outside. People hadn’t started to gather outside yet.

I climbed onto Shiro and leapt out the window, subsequently stepping down from him by the fence.

Right after that, I scanned my surroundings and noticed a dark silhouette standing beside a street lamp.

It noticed me at the same time as I did, after which it ran away hastily, leaving behind irregular footsteps.

“Should we chase?”

I shook my head, and instead went to inspect the street lamp.

There, I found a small, empty gas tank lying on the ground.

Those fools. What were they thinking leaving this kind of evidence?

After hesitating for a while, I threw the tank inside the house.

Getting rid of the evidence, in other words.

“Was it the female or the other one hiding in the shadows just then?”

“From the scent, I’d say he was a male, but like I said, I can’t be sure.”

“I see.”

We didn’t talk anymore after that. I just waited quietly. The flames grew bigger by the minute, onlookers began to assemble and I slipped in among them. At the same time, Shiro departed so no one would see him.

All the onlookers started making noise, some taking pictures with their phones while others reported what they were seeing in a call. It seemed almost like a festival.

Then when the sound of the fire—or the noise outside—was loud enough, my step-father woke up, probably because of both, noticed what was happening, and finally appeared at the entrance, pulling my mother’s hand behind him.

“Let go of me! Misato-chan is still inside! Misato-chan!” my half crazed mother continually shouted.

Desperate, my step-father couldn’t think of any good excuse to convince her to come with him, so he just frantically kept pulling her by the hand, but she refused to go, floundering around just like a fish scooped out of the water so he was unable to control her.

He looked around, as if asking for help from the onlookers, but everyone pulled back, disconcerted by my mother.

“Mother.” I walked out of the crowd and called out to her.

She stopped moving immediately.

“Saki, it was you, wasn’t it…? You lit this fire, didn’t you! Just to kill Misato-chan, I know you did! What a horrible child! You demon!”

Demon, that was my latest achievement. I smiled wryly to myself.

It would have been so much better if my body was that of a demon, but ultimately I was just a fourteen year old girl.

Part 15

I responded slowly, clearly enunciating every word, every syllable, as if making sure they would leave a mark.

As though chanting a curse, I said:

“How do you think I’d be able to kill Misato, who has already died?”

Her face started twitching, her teeth clattered and her head dangled loosely.

Relief flooded my step-father’s face and he placed one hand on her shoulder, continuing to persuade her after my lead.

“What Saki-san just said is true. Misato has already passed away and there’s no one left in the house. It’s dangerous now so let’s leave, okay?”

He tried saying what he probably thought was most reasonable, seeing that she seemed to have already lost her will to return.

But in the end, he had only stepped on the worst landmine possible.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooo!” she screamed in a shrill voice, piercing my eardrums.

“You—even you are on Saki’s side?! So you were just tricking me—you were going to leave me, weren’t you? How cruel, so horrible, I hate this, I hate this all, someone save me!”

She squirmed like a wounded animal, and with her free right hand, she hit him in the face as hard as she could.

His face turned red in an instant, and after pressing his cheek with his left hand, he let his boiling emotions take over and forcefully knocked her away.

In other words, he let go of her.

After she rolled a few times on the ground, she quickly stood up again.

“Hang in there Misato-chan, mom will come for you soon. Then when this is all over, let’s happily live with just the two of us alone. Misato-chan, where are you?”

Her voice was desperate and her eyes possessed a wild look, unable to focus on anything as she plunged into the red flames enveloping the house, bereft of her sanity.

My step-father tried to follow her, but he faltered feeling the strength of the fire, and stood still in front of the front door that was spewing flames and smoke.

It was at that moment that finally a siren could be heard in the distance.

I left that place then. There was nothing more left for me to see.

One of my shackles had just vanished.

I walked into a narrow back-alley, and resting my back against the wall, I called Shiro.

A second later, Shiro appeared on top of the wall, looking down at me with his round black eyes.

When I looked back up to him, I noticed for the first time that the moon had been out tonight.

The silver wolf bathed in soft moonlight looked incredibly mysterious, reminding me that he was something from out of the human world.

I narrowed my eyes, pushing my hair back as I tried to reach out to him, but he was too far.

“Your mother…probably won’t be rescued.”

“I guess so.”

“Don’t you feel sad?”

“Who knows?” I started smiling, a wide smile that was made even with moving my cheeks. “I really wonder.”

“I asked something tasteless, didn’t I?”

I shook my head and changed the topic.

“The person who started the fire was one of my classmates.”

“So there are those kinds of people too—having no remorse whatsoever for their own actions.”

He seemed to be rather perplexed.

“You probably thought that all my enemies were people who lacked the courage to take the lives of others, right? You assumed they were all just fools scheming in the shadows without any real power, being mere weaklings.”

And I was also seen in that way.

“Am I right?”

I had probably hit bullseye as he just stared at me with an unclear expression, giving no answer.

“Saki, why are you so angry?”

He was so dense.

“The school isn’t safe, you know?” Please stay by side.

My true feelings were kept shackled in my heart.

Just what was I doing?

In reality, I was alone.

Just a weak girl, hiding in the shadow of a strong wolf that was enveloped by loneliness.

But Shiro was completely lost, trying to understand what I was saying.

Standing on tiptoe and straightening my back, I caressed Shiro’s cheek.

“…Idiot.”

My mutter vanished into the darkness.

~~~

I felt like I was going crazy, having to deal with police interrogations, a funeral, medical check ups, and the search for a new home. My step-father was pretty much useless, so I had to take care of practically everything.

And Shiro still kept going out every now and then, returning with the smell of blood on him.

My new home was a fourth floor apartment with three rooms and a living room. One became my step-father’s, another went to me, and the third remained empty.

In the police interrogations, I simply said that I didn’t know anything. They were apparently trying to investigate whether it had been a case of arson. They also asked if anything had happened recently that might cause someone to have a grudge against us, but I also shook my head at that.

I was summoned countless times and taken to what could be described as a drawing room, where I was guided to a couch and asked the same questions over and over again.

“Nothing comes to mind,” was the reply I repeated every time.

“I see,” the head investigator would say. “There’s one last thing I’d like to ask.”

“Yes?”

“Did you notice anything weird about your mother?”

Everything was weird about her, but I couldn’t just say that.

They were suspecting my mother, thinking that she might have set the house on fire due to some mental issue.

In the end, even after passing away, her life kept being molded to the will of others.

“Not really, she was a very good mother.”

I turned my eyes away and hid my face behind my hair.

Opposite the couch, the investigator let out a loud and heavy sigh.

“Please cheer up,” he said, his voice stinking of obligatory courtesy.

“Thanks,” I said, following suit.

~~~

Part 16

When everything was finally over, nine days had already passed.

Those nine days had been really hectic, which meant that I hadn’t made any progress at all in reading the last third of L’Etranger. I was still stalled after the first witness’ testimony in the main character’s trial.

My step-father was in the living room, painfully sleeping amidst a thicket of beer cans. I wasn’t at all bothered by his appearance though. That was just the way he was and probably how his sorrows were manifesting.

I left him there and headed to school without saying a word.

In only the span of nine days, fall had greatly intensified, and I felt as if the first signs of winter could already be seen in the distance.

The sky was clear, but the sunlight was weak and the wind was cold. I wished I had one more layer on top of my winter uniform.

The black sailor uniform had the appearance of a mourning dress.

But I didn’t have any intention of mourning.

Even though it had been a while since I last went to school, it was still the same boring and overly formal place.

Budworm wasn’t present however, but everyone else was.

I ignored the apprehensive stares as well as the noisy Tsukasa, and instead spoke to the perfect student with the arm in a cast.

“Who was it that broke your arm?” I asked straight away without even greeting him.

His face contorted into a mix of shock and fear as he replied:

“I-I just…fell down.”

“I see, then that’s fine.” I grinned in an insinuating manner and continued.

“Gas tank.”

His whole face convulsed at once.

“Would you like to have it back?”

“W-w-what do you m-mean?” His teeth started chattering loudly and his eyes evaded mine when I looked to his.

“You left it on the ground near my house. On the night you made the fire.”

“I don’t know anything about that! I didn’t have anything to do with it, I swear!” he screamed in horror, his body going weak as the guard around his soul fell to pieces.

And that was all the proof I needed.

If he had been the accomplice, I knew for sure who the leader was.

Since that was all the information I required, I didn’t have anything else to say.

“It wasn’t my fault! It was all her!” he shouted, standing up, then all strength left his body and he fell limply upon his desk.

A little while later, he started sobbing.

I shrugged it off and went to my desk.

There, Tsukasa looked at me with a vague, worried—which was really uncommon for her—smile, and said:

“Sacchan, I think you went too far.”

“That was just”—I glanced at him for an instant—”reaping what he sowed.”

“Not everyone, including him, can behave and stay strong in any situation like you. You’re at least aware of that, right?”

It almost sounded like she was lecturing me.

I looked away to the window and what was outside. The weather looked cold, the wind sporadically blowing over the sports ground. I brushed my hair back and replied:

“If you have nothing important to say, please leave me alone.”

“Do you hold your hair like that out of habit?” Instead, she started talking about something completely unrelated.

“I believe I just told you to leave me alone if you don’t have anything important to say.”

“And I want to talk with you—I think that’s something very important.”

“…It’s probably a habit.”

“I think it fits you a lot. It gives off this cold aura…” Her smile was bright now, she seemed to be enjoying this for some reason.

“I really wanted to have long hair too but it gets too curly so I gave up on growing it.”

She put her hands on both sides of her head and started grasping at her hair.

“I see.”

“It’s hereditary though, so there’s nothing I can do about it. My mom also has really curly hair, and when the rainy season comes, both our hair curls up even more and we look like scientists having gone through a failed experiment. If you come visit, I could show you the pictures of that.”

Then she splayed out her hands away from her head, gesturing as if it were exploding, and burst out laughing.

“My hair”— I started stroking my own hair, that black hair I had grown for so long—”–is also hereditary, it looks the same as my mother’s.”

My mother who went into the flames, yelling the name of my dead sister and–––

“So you liked your mom.”

“No,” I said. “I hated her.”

“That can’t be true,” she countered immediately.

“Even if I didn’t hate her, there’s no point talking about it now. She’s already dead.”

I stroked my hair one more time. It felt silky, just like my mother’s felt when I touched it so long ago.

Part 17

“There is a point. I refuse to believe that there’s no point in remembering someone you liked.”

“It is pointless. Death is just that, death. And memories are memories. You’re just trying to forcefully find a point where there is none.”

“Sacchan.” Her face clouded over, shrouded by a darkness so deep that it made the cheerful self she had been until now seem like a lie. A darkness that seemed to reflect my own.

And in addition, a dash of sorrow and pity was mixed in, something I didn’t have.

“I’m really glad I met you, Sacchan. But if you tell me that remembering is completely worthless, then–––”

The sheer amount of kindness in her pained me, as though piercing my heart.

“–––that’s just too sad.”

I stood up.

“It is pointless. I don’t care about your opinion, but it’s pointless to me. I have no interest in you.”

Then I spouted that as if pushing her away, and left the classroom.

She didn’t stop me, nor did she grab my hair or call out to me.

I shouldn’t have come to school—all my textbooks had been burnt to ashes alongwith my house after all. There was no meaning left in coming here.

When I left, I loudly slammed the door as a way of breaking ties with this place.

After that, it felt like a small thorn was lodged in my chest.

“Shiro,” I called as I walked through the hallway.

But there was no answer.

I suspected that this could develop into something really annoying, so I headed to the infirmary only to find it completely empty. There, I took over one of the free beds to have a siesta…or more like a nap.

I curled up into a ball, covering myself with a blanket. Sleeping like a child in that position always felt good.

Still…the silver wolf wasn’t beside me.

I missed his warmth and feral scent. Longing for it, I only then realized it was something I missed. If I didn’t have anything—if I never had anything in the first place, everything might just have been better.

As I thought these things, I slowly started to doze off….

~~~

A cold chill bolted through my body.

Using all my strength, I leaped off the bed and landed on the floor.

A sharp knife pierced the pillow where my head had been resting just a moment before, and the impact it made bent the frame of the bed.

That kind of strength couldn’t be human.

Something must have happened to her. I could see her solemnly standing like a flame, illuminated by the red sunlight that filtered through a gap in the curtains.

I had probably been asleep for a long time as it was already past the end of class according to the clock on the wall.

“You have quite the manners, attacking someone while they’re asleep.”

It was Budworm, whose real name I still didn’t know.

Her right eye was blazing in stark contrast to her bandaged left eye, a knife was grasped in her hand, and she was still wearing the thin summer uniform with a short skirt and white knee socks.

And all I could sense from her was a resolute and sharp enmity.

That kind of enmity called for calmness. So I took out the knife I had been carrying for a long time, never using it, and unfolded the blade with a click from the lock being released.

Seeing it, she froze.

“Why…are you holding that? That is Aya’s knife.” She identified it with a single glance, and in turn I replied with a low voice:

“I’m borrowing it for a bit.”

At that very moment, she started laughing like a maniac.

Sounding somewhat broken, somewhat hurt, but also entirely insane.

The facial expression she pulled was one of sorrow, as though she had just let go of something, just like a broken person.

“Did you go mad?”

“Only as much as you did.”

She pressed her bandaged eye with her empty left hand and bent her body backwards, making her short hair flutter without breaking her laughter for an instant.

“You know, I sold my soul to a sorcerer. Now I’m the same as you.”

She loosened the scarf wrapped around her neck with her fingertips.

The red cloth fell to the floor, unveiling the white skin of her chest.

On it, a red wound had been carved out.

Part 18

The wound was shaped like a symbol resembling an N with the upper and lower ends stretched out.

ba-dump––– a loud heartbeat rang in my ears out of the blue.

The symbol must have caused it—it was so sudden, I felt like that had to be it.

But then, I remembered.

“In other words,” ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump, the beats thundered louder and louder. “You’ve started throwing your humanity away?”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s exactly it.” Her voice increasingly grew more excited.

“But why did you…” ba-dump ba-dump ba-dump–––

“To appease a need, to fill the emptiness left by losing Aya.”

How…sad.

“But then, why me…?”

How…pleasant.

“No reason in particular, but only you—only your face came to mind every single time!”

She was going insane, but I was ecstatic.

She was my enemy. An enemy just for me. The only enemy that was truly the same as me!

I could feel all the cells in my body revolving in joy.

If it was light that the silver wolf had cast upon my heart, then this girl standing before me was the shadow caused by it.

An equalizing shadow.

The destruction was accelerating, the world was crumbling, and I…I was being reborn.

Two knives were present here, both reflecting light from the fluorescent lamp. And meanwhile, our own eyes reflected each other.

“Fill the emptiness left by Aya with your life, fill the emptiness in my heart!”

Her blade drew a straight line as the bandage fluttered and her hair streaked behind her, darting like lightning towards me.

She was like a flash, aiming straight for my nape.

As I was left staring at her afterimage, I barely managed to grasp my knife and parry her attack. It felt like I could see death vanishing into the distance after my knife slipped between my nape and her blade.

The loud metallic shrills of clashing blades reverberated loudly through the empty infirmary.

Grinding my teeth together, I rammed my blade against hers while she tried to overpower me.

Her whole body was leaning on my blade, and I could feel that she had the upper hand as my hands started shaking.

I closed my lips shut and glared at her. Her bright right eye contained not a single speck of hesitation, it was completely overtaken by killing intent.

ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump ba-dump ba-dump.

The three hearts were pulsating, reverberating through my entire body as though some ringing alarm was violently exciting them and…

…filling them with strength.

With sheer force, I pushed her over and stood up, taking the advantage.

Her eye wavered, slightly impatient.

But I was smiling.

I parried her blade to the left, destroying her posture in the process.

Then I shoved my knee into her exposed stomach.

She let out a muffled cry like a bug that was being crushed, and her torso flopped down.

I wasn’t going to let her escape.

I raised my left elbow and hit her in the cheek, causing her whole body to stagger while increasing the distance between us at the same time.

Lowering my waist, I used my left feet as pivot and rotated my entire body, focusing all the momentum into a kick that would send her flying backwards.

I heard the dull sounds of bones cracking, then saw her body head straight to a broken window, partially going through it.

The frame of the window rattled loudly and came loose, falling to the floor and pulling the curtain rails down with it.

Countless shards of glass glittered with a red tint from the setting sun as they rained down upon her body.

But I wasn’t going to end this just yet.

My body was shaking, and the black birthmark on my skin was throbbing.

As if screaming at me to use it.

–––Karma befitting the child who was shunned by the world where people amass piles of corpses, wandering down various paths of blood–––

“Heed me Crescent Moon’s Shadow!”

I transferred my knife to my left hand, then pulled the trembling whip from under my sleeve.

It felt incredibly familiar in my hand, as though I had been using it for thousands of years. My body instantly knew how to use it.

Using the momentum from my entire body, I swung the whip with my arm and took a step forward, making my hair dishevelled in the process.

It was like a macabre dance.

Marked by a screeching noise, the black whip conjured a storm with the sharpness of a knife and the weight of a hatchet, devastating everything within the small infirmary room.

It crushed the beds, split open the floor, ripped apart the ceiling and knocked over shelves of medicine, wrecking havoc all around.

And ahead of all this uncontrollable destruction was Budworm, standing on her knees.

Translator: def_nomad
Editor: Nocturne, Yuuki

References

References
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peor%C3%B0 ; Also known as the rune of fate.
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_yum and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aojiru